My Sports

29 April 2017

Artificial Turf Blues Games 21, 22 & 23: Doubleheader of Unhappiness

By // Sports

GAME 21
8-4 Loss in 11 innings at St. Louis
Season Record: 6-15

If the Blue Jays were a pair of pants right now, when they sat down on the sofa, all the toonies and car keys in their pockets would fall out, down between the seats and then through a vent and the nickels would stay safely tucked inside.

If the Blue Jays were the last two slices of bread in a loaf right now, they would fall, buttered side down, directly onto the little bit of ant poison you have under your counter as you were making a grilled cheese sandwich at midnight.

If the Blue Jays were the only cold bottle of beer in your fridge, their neck would crack as you twisted off the cap after cutting the lawn in 33 degree weather, filling the rest of the bottle with approximately 110 tiny shards of glass.

If the 2017 Blue Jays were your bank account and you needed to make a quick cash withdrawal, it would have 19 dollars and 99 cents in it.

If you were really hungry on a road trip and pulled off the highway late at 2 a.m. for food and the 2017 Blue Jays were the only restaurant that was still open, they’d be a Burger King. And they’d have nothing left but the fish sandwich.

If the Blue Jays right now were the only swimmer left in there after your vasectomy… alright, you get the idea.

Like Seinfeld’s dad trying to pay for dinner without his wallet, the St. Louis Cardinals tried everything they could to give this game away. Two more errors, two more base running snafus, they threw everything at the Toronto 9 today. The Blue Jays, playing the role of Jerry in this weak and dated analogy, kept refusing to accept it, confident that their insurmountable 4 run lead couldn’t possibly be overcome. Sometimes its a good idea to swallow your pride and accept others’ generosity. Otherwise you might literally never have anything good happen to you ever again.

COULDA, WOULDA, SHOULDA
(after each loss, three things that might have made a difference)

Roberto Osuna (and Russell Martin) COULDA been simpler with pitch selection. Again. To use an intellectual term, this whole young season Osuna has been ‘farting around’ with his repertoire and a gratuitous hesitation move and it is fair to say that thus far the results have been disappointing. Osuna’s four seam fastball/changeup combination has served him perfectly for his first two seasons. I didn’t even mind the occasional ‘show me’ slider. This year, like a band finally releasing an overproduced, difficult second album, he’s chosen to disregard everything that had worked for him and it is costing him all his success and popularity. Not throwing the four seamer regularly has cost him velocity and his ability to locate it within the strike zone. He paid the price for his tinkering again tonight with the fastball he put on a tee for a Randal Grichuk home run that tied the game with 2 outs in the ninth inning. Let’s hope his label doesn’t drop him before he makes a stripped-down, back-to-basics, critically acclaimed comeback.

If Mat Latos WOULDA stopped complaining to home plate umpire Brian O’Nora about calls he wasn’t getting, he might have been able to finish 6 innings even more efficiently and force John Gibbons to leave him in longer. Instead he pouted and stalked about the mound like an overgrown, sweaty Baby Huey after close non-calls, upsetting his pace and ensuring he wasn’t going to get a close call from O’Nora in the future, either. For a guy barely hanging on to a Major League career, the Jays should expect better focus and maturity from him in the future.

With a 4-0 lead in the first game of a doubleheader, John Gibbons absolutely SHOULDA left Latos in to pitch the seventh inning. Latos had been pretty good and a little fortunate, riding a good changeup today to allow just 3 hits (but 4 walks) to get through 6 innings on just 82 pitches. No matter that they all allowed at least one run each, there was no reason to burn through Biagini and Smith and Osuna that early, especially with rookie Casey Lawrence starting the second game of the day vs. Adam Wainwright. A 4-run lead was literally the Jays’ biggest so far this season. There was no reason to try to save Latos in this situation and go to your ‘better’ bullpen pitchers so soon. All this losing is making Gibbons overthink things now, too. Hard to blame him for feeling jumpy – April will be over in two and a half days and the Blue Jays have yet to win consecutive games.   Well, maybe Lawrence will catch the Cardinals sleeping and we’ll have a surprise upset on our hands in the second half of today’s doubleheader…

Aw, crap.

Sigh.

GAME 22
6-4 Loss at St. Louis
Season Record: 6-16

I’m not going to lie to you. After having my guts ripped out this afternoon I watched a lot of the NBA playoff game and the NFL Draft tonight and flipped back to the Jays game only out of a sense of responsibility to my 11 readers. Don’t make that face. You did the same thing, only you probably didn’t even flip back to the Jays once they fell behind 3-0 in the first inning. I can’t blame you for lacking confidence. This edition of Coulda Woulda Shoulda is based on what I saw between the Raps/Bucks game and the Cleveland Browns ruining the once-promising career of Myles Garrett by selecting him with the first overall pick of the draft.

COULDA, WOULDA, SHOULDA
(after each loss, three things that might have made a difference)

In the top of the third inning, Cardinals infielder Greg Garcia bobbled the ball at second base several times but still managed to step on the bag for the force out and then throw the refrigerator with legs that is Kendrys Morales out at first base by several steps. I honestly think Garcia COULDA run the ball all 90 feet from second base to first and beaten Morales there, who is already in the discussion as the slowest Blue Jays non-catcher of all-time. Sometime when the season is really completely lost (like, say, Monday) I’ll compose a comprehensive list of the slowest Jays players of all-time. Suggestions and recommendations will be gladly accepted.

If John Gibbons had appealed the safe call on Garcia trying to steal third base in the first inning, he WOULDA likely saved beleaguered starting pitcher Casey Lawrence two runs, because he was clearly out, in spite of a poor throw from catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Garcia then scored from third on a Stephen Piscotty sacrifice fly to centre field, which would have instead been the third out of the inning, preventing that run and one more that came after it that inning. Gibbons often appeals less important calls and loses most of them. The fact that the call was clearly wrong and he likely would win an appeal yet he chose not to here is puzzling, especially when the Jays ended up losing this game by two runs.

There are people who think Kevin Pillar SHOULDA won the Gold Glove Award last year. Respectfully, those people are wrong. Ironically, if the Gold Glove Award were just about a player’s catching ability, Pillar’s case would be stronger. The award is given for overall defensive prowess at a certain position and Pillar’s throwing is not a strength. Several times this season already he has thrown to the wrong base, allowing other baserunners to advance behind it. Tonight he allowed Dexter Fowler to tag and advance to third base on a fly ball to short centre field because he faked throwing to the wrong base and was caught flat-footed. In today’s first game, his throw to the plate in the 7th inning to try to nab Jose Martinez was a terrible sixteen hopper that wasn’t close. Cutoff man Justin Smoak had to field it like a weakly hit ground ball to make a play.

NOTES FROM MY COUCH

In the first game, Pillar’s mere presence rattled left handed relief pitcher Tyler Lyons while leading off from first base after a leadoff single. Lyons was clearly concerned with Pillar threatening to steal and came out of his delivery, rushing the ball to the home plate and walking Ezequiel Carrera in five pitches. This struck me as another example of something in baseball that is impossible to quantify with numbers or box scores, but is an undeniable human component. What would that stat look be anyway? BBDBBSTOB – Base On Balls Drawn Because of Base Stealing Threat On Base? I love statistics and how much they inform my experience of watching a game. I also love the game because statistics couldn’t possibly tell the entire story of what I’m watching.

I’ve heard a lot of media types take swipes at what they believe is a lack of starting pitching depth for the Blue Jays, which I don’t quite understand. They started the season with arguably the most established set of five starting pitchers in MLB. Two of them got hurt early in the season. Which team has seven reliable starting pitchers? At least half the teams in the majors don’t even have five decent starters and certainly couldn’t withstand losing forty per cent of their rotation in the same week without some kind of drop off. Mat Latos is certainly a decent option as a sixth starter. Okay, Casey Lawrence isn’t ideal but starting pitching is a prized commodity. There aren’t many pitchers who could start in the majors that will agree to go to Buffalo or Round Rock or Sacramento in AAA while waiting/hoping for an MLB spot to open up. They know they can get a spot on an MLB team somewhere instead. Truthfully, Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins did pretty well to have two guys in Buffalo ready to go when they were needed, especially so early in the season.

On that injury note, I’m going to steadfastly refrain from making any kind of bold “this season is over” declarations in April. Or in May. So many key injuries so early have dug the Blue Jays a unique hole to dig out of, though. Being 10 games out of first place before the end of the first month is one thing. To be in that position with four or five of your very best players all missing in action makes a playoff berth rally a far greater and far less likely challenge. Watching this current lineup incarnation lose 2 of 3 to a flawed St. Louis team, especially when the Cardinals aren’t playing particularly well made it clear that even ‘treading water’ is going to be a challenge at a time when they probably would need to do better than that.

GAME 23  
7-4 Loss vs. Tampa Bay
Season Record: 6-17

I purchased a magical potion today. As you can see from the high tech photo, it was a little pricey but I think it will be worth it because unlike lesser, single-function soap products, when used properly this lather serves as a body wash and a shampoo and a conditioner. As I stood in the aisle of my favourite beauty product retail outlet debating the hefty price tag, I decided “to hell with it – I’m sick of bathing products that only accomplish one or maybe two tasks.”

Once I got it home, I eagerly took of the top and ripped off the protective seal underneath it, I was almost literally blown away by the powerful scent. It is as though the good people at Biolab International have somehow managed to combine the delicate aroma of diesel gasoline with the more potent spice of embalming fluid and then infused that heavenly union with a gentle pine tar fragrance to ensure it will appeal to hardcore baseball fans like myself. I couldn’t find out what was actually used to make this product because I was hallucinating and the fine print on the back label is too small for human eyes to read, so the alluring mystery will just have to go on. After my headache faded and I replaced the lid, my one regret was that I had only chosen to purchase one bottle. What a rush.

I am certain that I will never be cleaner in my life than when I lather my body up with this miraculous concoction. More importantly, I also have a gut feeling that the moment I begin to wash myself with it, its powerful ingredients will not only wash me cleaner than ever before, but will also serve as a tonic to strip away all of the filthy luck that has enveloped the Toronto Blue Jays team it is named after. I will begin using it on May 1. Undoubtedly a new calendar month combined with a new three-stage wash product will have a cleansing effect and scrub this dirty season clean. On the other hand if the Jays’ fortunes have not improved by May 10 or so, I may begin drinking it every evening just before game time.

COULDA, WOULDA, SHOULDA
(after each loss, three things that might have made a difference)

If Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr. had chosen any other night to have the defensive game of his lifetime, this one COULDA been closer in the end. Souza made three outstanding defensive catches tonight, taking away three hits (okay, two and a half), throwing the proverbial wet blanket on a few Jays innings that looked promising. With a starting lineup that ‘featured’ Pearce, Bautista, Barney, Goins, Smoak and someone named Luke Maile tonight, the Jays’ collective approach of trying to hit the other way was admirable (and rare). Souza squelching three of those admirable attempts with great catches just seemed mean-spirited at this point. No wonder Troy Tulowitzki always wants to fight him.

With none out and runners at first and second in the third inning, Kevin Pillar made a base running mistake that cost the Jays two subsequent chances to hit with two runners in scoring position. Jose Bautista hit a long, arcing fly ball to right centre that Rays right fielder Steven Souza tracked down to make a nice catch at the wall. It was a good Major League catch. Maybe even very good. It was not an absolute robbery. It became pretty clear that Souza was going to at least get to the ball and Pillar should have recognized that and tagged up. If he had, Darwin Barney at first base would have tagged, too (remember, he can’t advance if Pillar doesn’t) and the Jays WOULDA had runners at second and third with just one out. If Souza doesn’t make the catch, Pillar would have still scored from second and Barney can likely get to third on the play anyway while the ball bounces around out there. Kendrys Morales’ fly ball to center four pitches later would have broken the goose egg for the Blue Jays early. With Toronto’s bullpen currently providing their team all the comfort of a tire fire, every run counts.

I’m struggling to defend why John Gibbons had Joe Biagini warming up in the seventh but then decided to use Jason Grilli instead in the eighth after deciding Marcus Stroman was finished for the night (at exactly 100 pitches, BTW). Biagini has been much better this season so far and Grilli continues to struggle badly. It’s safe to say any win for the Blue Jays is a big win right now. They need to win right now, not worry about how a slight shift of roles might hurt the usual set-up guy’s feelings. Biagini was the much better choice right now to try and hang on to a modest lead for a desperate team, especially since he had already loosened up. Grilli and his 7+ ERA probably SHOULDA been allowed to ‘find himself’ in a less impactful situation. After Evan Longoria’s home run vs. Grilli opened the door and tied the game, the Rays burst through it, stampeding over Dominic Leone and J.P. Howell like they were two unarmed Pinkerton guards standing in front of a jailbreak at Leavenworth.

NOTES FROM MY COUCH 

The Rays are currently leading the American League in home runs, making Stroman’s relative dominance of them over 7 and 1/3 innings tonight even more impressive. Two of the most improved hitters I’ve seen this season are Souza and Corey Dickerson, who has as much raw power as almost anyone in the AL. Despite Buck and Pat both insisting on calling him “Chris”, if he can continue to be more selective at the plate, he is a lock for a minimum of 30 home runs this season. Tampa’s offence looks much improved so far in 2017 and more capable of the quick-strike rampages like they went on tonight in the late innings. Give credit to some of their players for making concentrated efforts to adjust and refine their skill sets in the offseason. With their limited payroll, the Rays rely on their players outperforming expectations and the team’s culture seems to encourage them to do that.

It would please me no end if the media would stop spouting statistics of how great so-and-so has hit vs. the Blue Jays over their career. A player’s history vs. a team means nothing and is 100% useless in predicting outcomes today. Example : “Longoria has hit over .300 vs. the Blue Jays since coming to the Major Leagues in 2008.” The 2008 Blue Jays pitching staff contained such perennial Cy Yuk candidates as David Purcey, Jesse Litsch and Brian Tallet. What anyone did against any of those pitchers means less than nothing in 2017. Hell, the Blue Jays weren’t even wearing similar uniforms back then. If we’re willing to discount a batter’s history against any current Jays pitcher as too small a sample size to matter, surely we don’t need to even consider bringing up his history against long-retired pitchers who we’ve all tried to forget about.

Yesterday apparently marked the end of the brief Jarrod Saltalamacchia era as the Jays’ backup catcher, as he was DFA’d before the game. While he was undeniably awful for Toronto (1 feeble single and 16 strikeouts in 25 at-bats and no base runners caught stealing), I will still miss him. When your team is as awful as this current incarnation of the Toronto Blue Jays are, I found it somehow comforting to have a guy on the bench who is confident enough to rock hair like the guitar player from Journey in 1986. At times I was sure he would wear a denim vest overtop of his uniform instead of a chest protector. His glorious, Dippity Doo-covered curls were providing us all with a mildly pleasant diversion from what has thus far been an otherwise generally unwatchable four weeks of baseball.

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